Is Thanos a Greek island? Are Infinity Stones some kind of rare gem? There’s an Ant-Man as well as a Spider-Man?! If you’ve never watched a Marvel movie in your life but want to be a part of the excitement surrounding Avengers: Endgame’s home entertainment release, we’ve got you covered with the 10 Marvel films you must watch pre-game.
Avengers: Endgame is the movie pop culture event of 2019 – the staggering culmination of a decade of cinematic universe building comprising 22 films and three phases, collectively known as ‘The Infinity Saga’. It’s a dense and interconnected universe, with multiple character arcs and plot threads that pay off magnificently in this grand finale.
Diving straight into Endgame with no prior familiarity with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and its pantheon of superheroes is akin to watching the very last episode of a 10-season series first – why would you? But at the same time, a marathon of the previous 21 films might be daunting for some…
Fortunately, STACK has done the homework for Marvel newbies who are curious to discover what all the fuss (and box office billions) is about. We’ve narrowed the field to the 10 titles that will quickly bring you up to speed – in layman’s terms – on key players and events prior to the Endgame. And remember to keep your finger off the STOP button until well after the end credits have rolled…
Let’s start at the very beginning… This is the film that kick-started the MCU and introduced one of its key players – industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Wounded during a missile attack in Afghanistan, Stark has an electromagnet implanted in his chest to repel shrapnel from his heart, and a powered armour suit assists in his escape. Iron Man is born! You’ll also get an introduction to intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage and Law Enforcement Division), which plays a crucial role throughout the MCU.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, started out as a weakling who failed to qualify for military service during WWII, before being transformed into a buff and brave hero in a super soldier experiment. You’ll meet the Cap’s sweetheart Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and his best buddy Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), whose importance to the Captain will have major ramifications later. Then there is the Tesseract, a mysterious cube used by the nefarious organisation called HYDRA to power enhanced weaponry, and a vital element of the Infinity Saga.
Marvel’s mightiest heroes assemble to save New York from an invasion by a warlike alien race. Iron Man and Captain America are joined by brilliant scientist Bruce Banner, whose exposure to gamma radiation left him with a green and mean alter ego called the Hulk; the hammer-wielding Thor (Chris Hemsworth) – yes, the same one from Norse mythology; super spy Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), aka Black Widow; and master archer Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), known to his friends as Hawkeye. The chaos that erupts in the Big Apple is the work of Thor’s adopted brother, the mischievous Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who is working for a mysterious ‘other’. One of the best entries in the MCU, The Avengers is the real beginning of the Infinity Saga.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
An obscure bunch of Marvel Comics characters – including a wisecracking raccoon, a walking tree, and a cocky earthling named Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) – made a grand entrance in one of the most popular films in the MCU. Guardians reveals overarching plot details, not least a brief history of the ‘Infinity Stones’ that are crucial to the saga. You’ll also get insight into the MCU’s big bad, Thanos, from his adopted daughters, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana).
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Although considered by many to be the weakest of the Avengers films, you can’t really skip this one. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner create a sentient AI called Ultron (James Spader) as a peacekeeper, only to have their creation turn against them in true Frankenstein fashion. New key players include the powerful Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), an android created by Ultron using one of the Infinity Stones. The biggest takeaway here is the realisation that the Avengers aren’t infallible, and that saving the world sometimes comes with a high cost.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
Essentially an Avengers movie minus a few regulars, this is one of the biggest and best Marvel movies, introducing both Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) to the MCU. Collateral damage from the battle with Ultron results in the UN regulating the Avengers. Tony Stark agrees to sign the accord, but Steve Rogers refuses and sides with old pal Bucky Barnes, who’s now an assassin known as the Winter Soldier. This splits the Avengers and consequently, you’ll need to choose a side: Team Iron Man or Team Cap?
After a supporting role in Civil War, T’Challa/Black Panther takes centre stage as the newly crowned king of the secretive African nation of Wakanda, where tribal culture mixes with high tech. Wakanda is also the source of Vibranium – the indestructible element used to create Ultron and Captain America’s iconic shield – and the vibrant nation has a key part to play in the climax of the Infinity Saga.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP
Like the standalone Ant-Man movie, this follow-up doesn’t really impact the Infinity Saga, but you’ll need to know what the sub-atomic ‘Quantum Realm’ is before reaching the Endgame.
A comedy masquerading as a Marvel movie, this atypical entry doesn’t add much to the Infinity Saga arc, but the dramatic climax dovetails into the events of the next adventure, Avengers: Infinity War, making it required viewing.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
In Age of Ultron, Thor theorised that someone in the universe was “playing a very intricate game” with the Avengers, and he wasn’t wrong. Thanos (Josh Brolin) is finally revealed, along with his grand plan to use the six Infinity Stones to wipe out half of the population of the universe. Prepare for a massive cliffhanger ending, and the epic conclusion in Endgame.